Demonic, in theaters and digital on August 20, is filmmaker Neill Blomkamp’s return to cinema after six years. The horror film centers around a supernatural struggle ignited by a decades-old rift between a mother and daughter.
Carly Pope, who plays the daughter in question, spoke to Screen Rant about reuniting with Blomkamp for another project and tackling the forces of evil onscreen.
Screen Rant: You’ve collaborated with Neill before, and he said that he wanted to work with you again for Demonic. How did his idea come across your table?
Carly Pope: He reached out via email at the beginning of 2020, just a few days after New Year’s. And it was very casual: “I’m thinking of doing a low-budget horror film. What do you think?” And I, of course, said yes.
But at that stage, I believe he had at least one other project that was meant to come first. So, I just tucked it away in my pocket and thought, “Okay, that’ll be a rainy day excursion,” and that was that. Then the pandemic shut everything down in March, including his film that he was meant to shoot, so he doubled down on the idea of doing this film.
When the thought of it came up, I believe it was self-financed. It was kind of a long-form Oats [Studio] concept – that’s what it seemed to be. So once the pandemic happened, and he circled back on the idea to make it happen, we were able to very quickly get up and running.
And it was so much fun. There was no question about wanting to do it. It was Neill’s first film back in six years, and it was an opportunity to do a long-form project with him. It was during a pandemic, where I was sitting in curfews and terror in my house. So, it was an opportunity to get out and shake that up a bit, and to have something to focus on other than masks and viruses – even though, of course, that was still a backdrop. But it was nice to have things become less myopic.
Demonic blends sci-fi and horror perfectly together. What were some of the themes that jumped out at you and made it fun?
Carly Pope: Right from the jump, I always look at a story from a human perspective instead of looking at it as a horror story. If you’re shooting in slo-mo, you don’t act in slo-mo, you know? I was kind of deconstructing it that way, going like, “Okay, what’s at the root of this?”
And to me, obviously, it was a mother-daughter story. There were elements of passed down trauma and familial trauma. There is a massive element of forgiveness; forgiving yourself as well as forgiving those that you feel may have wronged you, and understanding and compassion. Really, it’s a story of connection. And all of those kinds of human elements to me were a big draw.
Can you tell me about the relationship between Carly and her mother, Angela (Nathalie Boltt), and how that’s explored throughout the course of the film?
Carly Pope: Sure. When we start the film, they’ve been estranged for about two decades, based on crimes that Angela had committed in the past that Carly disowned her as a result of. They were horrific crimes that left her feeling that she had no choice but to put a stop to their relationship. That’s where we start.
Then Carly’s drawn into this new technology from this medical company that asks her to come in to communicate with Angela since she’s in a comatose state. Originally, Carly’s idea is that she can go and get some closure by asking some questions. But really, what ends up happening is she gets drawn into the experience of what Angela has been living with, and what environment she is currently in, what stage she is currently in. It allows Carly to unravel the mysteries of that and also find a path toward healing.
What did you want to bring to the role of Carly that wasn’t necessarily on the page?
Carly Pope: I really wanted to bring a sense of strength by virtue of being vulnerable. That was really important to me because I didn’t want her to be either an unrealistic hero or just a scared little girl – and I say that with regards to the inner child that obviously needs to be protected in the film. It was really important to me to be able to find a strength that was relatable, by virtue of vulnerability that hopefully is relatable too.
You’ve collaborated with Neill, an amazing and innovative director, before. Can you talk to me about working with him on this project specifically? Because you are under different circumstances here with COVID protocols and all that stuff.
Carly Pope: Yeah, for sure. Working with him on this was such a pleasure because it was the first time I was able to work with him [on] a long-form process. We’d only worked for days or weeks at a time together; never in terms of months, and never with this amount of exposure.
That said, having worked with him on so many things before, I knew what I was going to get. He’s always incredibly approachable, incredibly relatable – and as you said, superbly innovative. I really appreciate his choices and his commitment to his choices. He’s amenable to things if it makes sense but also will push back if it doesn’t because he’s got a vision. And I really value that kind of collaboration, and also being under somebody’s guidance that knows what they want to make.
Something else that absolutely impressed me was the technology you used for this film. I had never heard about this, and it really seems like Neill’s on the forefront of the future of when it comes to entertainment. Can you talk to me a little bit about the technology used in Demonic?
Carly Pope: I will talk to you from a very neophyte perspective of it. It’s volumetric capture, which effectively [means] you are captured by 360 degrees of cameras – in this case, I think we used 260 cameras. It’s in a round, and you are within that cage, and every angle of you is captured in order for the data to be turned into a three-dimensional geometric avatar that then you can place into a photoreal environment.
We also use a technology – I think it was this, or it was an offshoot of this – called photogrammetry, which is where you capture real environments, and that becomes your place. Then your geometric self is placed into these environments, and my understanding is you can actually shoot it in-camera, so you can actually direct it.
That to me was the point when I said, “Neill, my brain’s gone black. My brain has gone into a void that I cannot even understand.” And I said, “You do you, I’ll just be here doing my best geometric jig. You do you, and figure it out.” Because truly, everything just sort of powered down.
One scene that was extremely terrifying to me was when Carly and her best friend Sam were at the house, and Sam turns into this monster or demon. Was that done in-camera practically or what?
Carly Pop: Yeah, it was. I don’t know if I’m betraying too much, but I’m assuming since you’ve just mentioned that, this will come out after.
Troy James is a contortionist that is phenomenal; that is so incredible. Hee’s also the loveliest person on earth, but he’s an actor and contortionist. Neil knew about him and his skills, and he thought, “If I can do this gag practically, I’d rather do it, of course.” And he just figured out how to make it happen. In fact, I would even argue that he might have wanted Troy in the movie so badly that he just wrote that piece for him. I might argue that, but I don’t know if that’s true.
So, yes, it was all done practically. It was all done in-camera, and all the stunts – which are minimal – everything was real. Everything happened on the day, and as a result, it was really a pleasure to shoot because there was so much natural adrenaline.
And also, Kandyse McClure is a friend of mine that I love dearly. Having her be in the film and sharing scenes with her and having the opportunity to experience this wild ride together was really special.
IFC Midnight will release Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic in theaters and everywhere you rent movies August 20th.